September 23, 2015
Next month, hitting the “Like” or “Share” button on Facebook will do more than signal approval. Facebook’s algorithms will begin to share data on peoples’ browsing history into its ad targeting systems, which means that, depending on what a user “Likes” or “Shares,” he or she can be served related ads on Facebook, photo-sharing service Instagram or any mobile app that uses Facebook’s ad network. Facebook’s “Like” button, which adds a bit of code to the page, was first offered to publishers in 2010.
Technology Review notes that Facebook’s ability to track its users’ browsing history was of concern to privacy groups from the beginning. In 2010, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, with other groups, wrote Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg an open letter asking him “to set the buttons to only collect data if someone clicked on one.”
That day has come. But a Facebook blog post also describes a new privacy setting that allows users to opt out of seeing ads targeted based on data collection of online activity. That’s not enough for EFF’s Rainey Reitman who notes that, “anytime you load a page with a ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ button embedded, Facebook will still know about it.”
“Promising not to use information is not the same as promising to actually delete the data,” she says.
Reitman further notes that most Facebook users don’t know that whenever they load a page with a “Like” button, Facebook gathers “a little information” on them. EFF’s preference is that the “Like” button only send information to Facebook when a user “actively engages” it, and that the company should agree to respect the “do not track” standard under development.